Are you a single parent or a superhero?
No doubt, a single mom or dad faces greater parenting challenges than do traditional "in-tact" parents.
But that doesn't mean your kids will suffer, or that you should give up your life for your kids - in spite of what Dr. Laura might say!
I have met way too many moms - and I think this is more of a moms' problem - who become martyrs for the sake of their children. This is both unhealthy for the parent and equally bad for the kids. Sometimes finances limit the ability to "play" and take care of oneself, but there are always creative solutions for every aspect of parenting.
Single dads may err in the opposite direction, when they're weekend Disney dads or when they find a new love in their life and ignore their children altogether. I won't even discuss the deadbeat dads, as I have nothing but disdain for them and they won't be reading this anyway.
Everyone struggles with balance in their lives, especially in these economic times. Nonetheless, that balance is even more necessary when you're juggling work and kids as a single parent.
I was a 24/7 single dad for several years, while also taking care of my ailing parents, who both died in the past three years.
I learned some great things from a lecture by Dr. Bruce Powell, the head of school at the New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, California, and the father of three daughters and one son. He spoke about the challenges of raising teenagers, though it is very clear his ideas are valuable for kids of all ages.
Powell offered a simple formula that I'd like to share. He gave it the acronym P.A.V.E., which stands for Parental Actions, Values and Expectations. I think it has extra importance for the single parent.
Let's start with actions. Powell unequivocally stated, and I completely believe, that our kids don't miss anything we do in front of them. Our actions, our modeling, is significant in our kids' lives - much more than our words. If Dad comes home after work, pours himself a drink or two, and plops down in front of the television, they notice. If Mom is talking on the cell phone while driving, they notice.
Dr. Powell confessed a painful personal experience about his oldest daughter, now a mom herself. She was driving over the speed limit and he asked her to slow down. Her response was, "Dad, I'm just driving the way you always did."
What values are we teaching our kids? Do we teach them at all? They see how we treat the waiter or waitress, if we cheat on our taxes, try to take advantage of a salesperson, go to church or synagogue. Do we discuss our values? Do we live them? Or do we want schools, with their politically-correct environments, to give kids their values?
Finally, there are expectations. Do your kids know what you expect from them? Is it enough to expect good grades? Do they think we care more about grades than about how good a person they are? Expectations have become sort of taboo nowadays, in the same way that shame is a word that doesn't seem to get out much anymore. Yet both have importance in shaping how we behave. Our kids need to know our expectations. They should be more affected by disappointing us than by losing a privilege or being punished.
I spoke with another expert on this subject, Kimberley Clayton Blaine (www.TheGoToMom.TV) who said, "Parents who have a strong need to hyper-parent, or to control their child's environment, usually have some unmet need that makes them feel helpless and out of control. If you have a tendency to overprotect and shield your child from the world, it may be a way of regaining control that you've lost sometime back in your past."
Hyper-parenting can have some pretty serious repercussions, she said. "When children are shielded from every aspect of life, they never learn to be responsible for themselves - they become overly reliant on others and have a hard time trusting their own instincts. Children are capable and deserve the right to live securely in this world."
She's completely on the money. Too many single parents carry guilt and other baggage from their marriages that reflects how their former spouses have treated them and/or their children. What your children need now is a happy, balanced parent.
To that point, I asked men's life coach, author, and director of BetterMen.org, Wayne Levine, what single fathers can do to not only maintain that balance, but be the best fathers they can be. "Single dads often find themselves overwhelmed with the responsibilities of parenthood and livelihood, while struggling with a boat-load of anger, resentment and pain," Levine said. "The consequences of this struggle often are taken out on the kids, as well as on Dad's health and personal life. I suggest these men seek out the support of a men's counselor or men's group." Levine said the wisdom of other men can help these dads make sense of their feelings, work through any negativity, and "create plans of action to be the best men and fathers they can be."
Is being a single parent easy? Of course not. But life throws everyone curveballs. It's our choice how we catch them.
Bruce Sallan's column, A Dad's Point of View, appears every Friday on ColumbusParent.com. For more information on Bruce, visit www.brucesallan.com.